FIFA has decided to nix synthetic turf fields at the 2023 Women’s World Cup. The stipulation was included in requirements sent to those countries bidding for the international tournament.
The News Tribune notes that the new rule comes in the wake of controversy following the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which was played in Canada. At the time, some players threatened to launch a gender discrimination case — which was later withdrawn — because men’s World Cup games have always been played on natural grass. The players argued that turf is less forgiving than grass and impacts the game because of concerns over injury.
While full turf fields won’t be permitted in 2023, hybrid systems will. Such systems involve weaving millions of synthetic grass fiber between and beneath natural grass.
"The pitch shall feature a natural grass playing surface," FIFA's bidding requirements state. "Hybrid-grass systems are considered natural grass according to FIFA's requirements and hybrid reinforcement should be considered for stadium pitches."
FIFA is also asking that those countries bidding on the 2023 Cup ensure that each training ground has at least one natural grass field.
The Synthetic Turf Council said in a statement that it was disappointed in the new rules and hoped that FIFA would reconsider.
"This follows FIFA’s judgement that the 2019 Women’s World Cup not be played on synthetic turf fields. While STC’s members specify, manufacturer and install best in class hybrid synthetic turf and natural grass systems, which are allowed by FIFA for the 2023 contest, the intentional exclusion of synthetic turf fields is misguided," the statement read. "Synthetic turf fields provide unparalleled playability, and promote year-round activity on safe and resilient surfaces well after the World Cup finishes. The STC respectfully requests that FIFA reexamine its bidding requirements for the 2023 tournament."
Among other requirements, FIFA will require that the opening game and final must be played in venues with at least 55,000 seats, while other games will need to accommodate 20,000 spectators. The semifinals must be played in the 35,000-capacity venues.
Countries that have expressed interest in hosting the tournament include South Korea, Australia, Japan, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, New Zealand and South Africa.